Tony Stockman loved raising his family in Circleville and coaching men’s basketball at Ohio Christian University, but an opportunity arose that was too good to pass up.
Former OCU President Mark Smith, who brought the 2000 Medina High graduate to the school six years and two National Christian College Athletic Association national championships ago, is now serving in the same role at Columbia International University in South Carolina.
Their relationship was so good that when Smith called and offered Stockman the opportunity to take over the men’s program at CIU, he couldn’t say no.
“The relationship with him and being comfortable with him, the security for my family, his love for my family and athletics, that was huge,” Stockman said Thursday. “I use basketball as my ministry, to spread my ministry, and he gets that and encourages it. He was a huge factor in my decision.”
The 36-year-old Stockman and wife Brittany have five children — sons Tayden, 13, Braysen, 11, and Maddox, 9, and daughters Mytae, 4, and Solae, 1 — so deciding to leave OCU, which is 28 miles south of Columbus, wasn’t easy.
“Brittany’s excited about the weather in South Carolina, and the kids are very outgoing, so they’ll be fine,” Stockman said with a chuckle before turning serious.
“Me going there (to OCU) young in my faith, I grew in my faith,” he said. “The people and the school were just great for that, for me and my family. That was such a big thing. And not just the school, but the people in the community. Circleville is a great, small town. That’s the stuff that is making it real hard to go.”
Equally tough was leaving an OCU team that had a great freshman class in 2017-18 and could enjoy tremendous success in future years. Stockman knew on Saturday he was going to take the CIU job and informed his players Monday.
“It was really hard to tell them,” he said. “Kids don’t always understand you have to do things that are best for your family, but I tried to express to them that the reason it was so hard to leave was because of them.”
Stockman hasn’t ruled out trying to climb the college coaching ladder when his children are older — he was recently contacted by an NCAA Division II school about its coaching vacancy — but his move to CIU was more about reuniting with Smith and attempting to build a program.
“The biggest thing is security for my family and being comfortable and doing what I love to do,” Stockman said. “Once the kids get older, things might change and I might try to coach at a higher level, but right now it’s very important for me to be able to spend time with my family. This is a great situation to be able to do something I love, but also to have time with my wife and kids.
“I’m excited to go in there and try to build something. Having success will be good for me if I decide I want to try to move up later on. I’ll have that built into my resume, but my thought process is, ‘I’m fine where I’m at.’ I don’t see that changing, but it could.”
CIU went just 7-23 in 2017-18, but its top scorers were two freshmen and a sophomore. The program will be entering its first year of National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics D-II play.
A Christian-based school similar in size to OCU — CIU has approximately 600 undergraduate students — the Rams compete in the 14-team Appalachian Athletic Conference, which includes colleges like Allen (S.C.), Bluefield (Va.), Bryan (Tenn.) and Union (Ky.).
“At our level, NAIA D-II, we fight with how serious the kids take basketball,” Stockman said. “I take it so seriously. It’s finding and getting the kids that will take it as seriously as I do and have pride in the program and themselves and take advantage of the opportunity to play college basketball.”
Stockman was Ohio’s co-Mr. Basketball as a Medina senior and went on to play at Clemson and Ohio State before embarking on a seven-year professional career that featured stints in France, Israel, Germany, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
At OCU, Stockman compiled a 131-73 record, won NCCAA D-II national titles in 2013 and 2014, was NCCAA D-II National Coach of the Year in 2015 and led the program to the NCCAA D-I title game in 2017.
“If you work hard,” Stockman said, “usually good things happen.”